For those interested, here’s a quick summary of the books I’ve dived into so far in 2023:
Christianity’s Surprise: A Sure and Certain Hope by C. Kavin Rowe (Abingdon Press, 2020)
A quite short (128 pp.) introduction to the surprising & revolutionary character of Christianity in its original ancient context. In the midst of the much softer, domesticated version of Christianity of the modern West, the author seeks to inspire his readers to re-capture the original allure & beauty of authentic cross-shaped living sustained by the original Christian hope.
Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness by Richard B. Hays (Baylor University Press, 2016)
The four gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) are inextricably linked to the story of the Old Testament. Reading Backwards is a brilliant, accessible, and fairly short work (177 pp.) that traces the connections between each of the four gospel accounts with the Hebrew scriptures. It’s a fascinating summary that I highly recommend to anyone.
Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson by Daniel Mark Epstein (Mariner Books, 1994)
I’ve known about Aimee Semple McPherson for many years. But my close proximity to her home & church in L.A. piqued my interest enough to read this biography. It’s a sympathetic and reasonably honest look at her extraordinary and tragic life.
Eat this Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans, 2009)
For this modern age of 21st Century evangelical pastors, I cannot think of a more important thinker and writer to learn “pastoral theology” from than Eugene Peterson. That has nothing to do with this particular book, but I just feel the need to include that statement. For any pastors who may be reading this, Eugene Peterson is an author well worth your time & attention. His memoir, The Pastor, might be a good place to start.
Anyway, Eat this Book is an inspiring invitation into the practice of approaching the Bible not as a textbook, almanac, or pocket manual, but as an awe-inspiring and expansive story into which we are immersed. I enjoyed it so much, I’m planning on leading a discussion on this book sometime this summer.
Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King by Matthew Bates (Baker Academic, 2017)
This is one I first read a few years ago. I re-read it and led a wonderful group discussion in my office this Spring. We are saved by grace through faith. Amen. But what do these words mean? How do the concepts relate to one another? And how does it cohere with the gospel announcement of the New Testament? In Salvation by Allegiance Alone, New Testament scholar Matthew Bates sheds important light on this subject. The book gets a little dense in some spots, and in particular sections I think he could’ve written much more clearly. But for American evangelicals, he offers some important points that are not only worth our consideration, but are critical for us to grasp in order for Christianity to thrive in the Western world.
Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake (Da Capo Press, 2008)
I don’t just read theology books. This was an enjoyable, bed-time read about a band I’ve always been fascinated with. It inspired me to give my children the experience of the famous Wizard of Oz//Dark Side of the Moon sync effect.
Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment edited by Alan P. Stanley (Zondervan Academic, 2013)
This book is part of Zondervan’s “Counterpoints” series, in which each book takes on a particular theological subject. Several scholars from different traditions write an essay representing their tradition’s view of the subject. Then the other scholars who represent opposing views each write a short response to one another’s essays. It’s a decent introduction to some of the various viewpoints Christians have on a wide range of topics and why they hold their views. Fresh off of reading Salvation by Allegiance Alone, I decided to dive into this one and wasn’t disappointed.
Calvinism: A Biblical and Theological Critique edited by David L. Allen & Steve W. Lemke (B&H Academic, 2022)
I’m about 30% through this one, so I have a ways to go. It provides essays written by various contributors (including two of my favorite scholars, Ben Witherington and Roger Olsen, although I haven’t yet gotten to their essays). While I have significant quibbles with some of the soteriology in this book, so far I find it to be a thorough and effective critique of five-point Calvinism and its fundamental tenets and implications.
Out of the Embers: Faith After the Great Deconstruction by Bradley Jersak (Whitaker House, 2022)
Again, I’m about 30% through this one so far. So I don’t have much feedback yet on the book itself. However, so far I appreciate the way Jersak handles the topic of theological deconstruction in a careful and nuanced fashion. Too many evangelical “thought leaders” don’t really understand the term deconstruction, its wide-range of usage, and how it has become “a thing.” And because of this lack of understanding, many leaders carelessly (and fearfully) make generalizations and lash out, which ironically represents what many are deconstructing from. If none of this is making any sense to you, don’t worry about it. This book really isn’t meant for you. But it’s especially for people who have been going through theological change, those who have experienced deep pain in a church context, and/or those who have walked away from church or Christianity altogether. So far (30% in) I find it to provide compassionate & wise counsel written by someone who has been through it himself and has emerged with an ever-increasing fascination with Jesus.